This work byTitianis part of a triad of paintings he made for theAugustinian Church of Santo Spirito in Isola. A commission that somehow came to him in the second instance, since originally the work had fallen to the painter and biographer of artists, Giorgio Vasari, but he never did it. So it was then that Titian was commissioned with these large canvases depicting three scenes from the Old Testament. There's the Triumph of David, the Sacrifice of Isaac and of course the Death of Abel, of which we include an image.
The Death of Abel by Titian
These canvases are no longer in the church for which he painted them between 142 and 1544, but today can be seen in the spectacular Church of Santa Maria della Salute inVenice.
The scene with which he captures the first fratricide in history is truly powerful. Everything remains in an almost dim light, and there the monumental bodies of both characters take center stage, Abel the murdered and Cain the murderer. Both, especially Abel, placed in an incredible foreshortening, which gives great drama to the scene. Undoubtedly, those almost sculptural bodies and the drama demonstrate the influence that the ceilings painted by Michelangelo could have had on the art of Titian.
Although that is not the only reference.Also the tremendously risky perspective of the scene, from bottom to top, can be linked to painters like Correggio and even Andrea Mantegna, author of perspectives magnificent as the Lamentation over the dead Christ.
The truth is that the image is brutal, and details are not spared. We see how Abel's head is already bleeding from a previous blow. But Cain does not have enough, and in his rage, he steps on the body of his brother to deal more blows to kill him. The two of them dominate the canvas in a diagonal composition that exudes dynamism. They are very expressive figures, and given the chosen point of view they seem colossi.
And looking at the dark background, it could be considered a neutral setting, but we see a smoke rising towards the sky, something that refers to the fratricide motif. As narrated in Genesis, once Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise, they had Cain as their son first, and then Abel. This second would end up becoming a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the land. And both regularly made their sacrifices and their offerings to God. But the truth is that the ones Abel did seemed to be more successful, and that's why his brother, mad with envy of him, ended up killing him.